Kit Review: Dragon Models Limited 1/35 Scale '39-'45 Series Kit Number 6183; M4A3E8 "Thunderbolt VII"; 633 parts (431 in grey styrene, 160 "Magic Link" T66 tracks, 18 clear styrene, 12 steel springs, 11 etched brass, 6 brass tubes, 1 turned aluminum barrel); estimated price US $41-45
Advantages: DML "works off the gig sheet" on past kits with CORRECT weld beads and "slide molded" turret shapes; back detail on all wheels; very detailed parts breakdown to HVSS bogies; correct period T66 tracks
Disadvantages: not enough etched brass for some modelers (see text)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all US Armor fans and "Shermaholics"
F I R S T L O O K
There is a document used by the United States Army which goes by its printing reference number as Form DA 2404. It is used to list the daily check faults on vehicles and as such is usually called either a 2404 or "gig sheet." Essentially the majority of kit reviews or build reviews many modelers write or see is pretty much along the same lines, albeit some are more finicky than others as to what they write up as "gigs".
For years fans of the Sherman tank - more properly the US Army M4 Medium Tank series - have been doing this to one kit or another for many reasons. And nearly every major and several minor manufacturer has done a 1/35 scale Sherman - Revell, Monogram, Tamiya, Italeri, Nichimo, MP Models, Dragon Models Limited, and Academy with Sherman based kits either coming out or available from AFV Club and Trumpeter as well. All have been written up for their flaws, mistakes or simple "gigs" and as a result have keep "experten" on the Shermans (and a few real knowledgeable people like Steve Zaloga and Joe Demarco) busy sorting them out for more than 25 years.
The major problems that are usually noted with the kits are these:
- The turret shapes are wrong, or wrong for the version being modeled; - The weld beads are wrong, as they show up as "trenches" rather than weld bead which stands proud of the surface; -The wheels come with no backing detail and are too thin; - The tracks are not correct, either wrong width, wrong design, wrong patter, or too flimsy; - And, the details for a specific variant are not correct - exhausts, vents, fenders, grilles, or hatches are not put in the right place (the culprit usually being research of an incorrectly restored vehicle.)
DML has taken much of the criticism of their kits to heart, and even though they have produced the arguably best Sherman kits to date, they have constantly been "gigged" for some or all of the above errors. Now they have come back with a vengeance with this first in a new series of M4 series tank kits, and most of the "gigs" have been "worked off" or eliminated.
The subject of the new kit is the last WWII M4 tank used by Colonel Creighton Abrams after he took off Combat Command B of the 4th Armored Division. It represents an early production M4A3 with the horizontal volute spring suspension, better known as either HVSS or "Easy 8" after its test designation, single-pin T66 cast tracks, a 76mm gun with muzzle brake in the later version of the T23-derived cast turret, and ordnance designed and fitted applique armor panels.
While not labeled as a "Smart Kit" like the new Panther Ausf. G, the new M4A3E8 kit uses a minimum of multimedia parts - it comes with a sparse brass sheet of only 11 items for use as the fenders for the wider HVSS suspension and track, a turned aluminum barrel, and 12 springs and six brass tubes that may be fitted to the suspension to permit it to "operate." While I personally am not a fan of "frou-frou" features like this, at least it is a better and more scalelike way to approach it than the toy-like vinyl or rubber fittings used in some other kits from other manufacturers.
The name of the game with this kit is "slide molding" which permits DML to get more onto the model in the right places and with less distortion. The lower hull pan now sports a lot more detail than past kits, including the assembly notching used on the real vehicle and other niceties. The upper hull FINALLY sports something no other kit has done up until now - RAISED weld bead instead of trenches where the welded hull assembles. This by itself will win the affection of many "Shermaholics" who tired of having to constantly fill and reshape the weld beads.
The turret is an evolution of the recent moldings from DML , and is again "slide molded" with texture, built-in pistol port mount, and the subtle angles of the original cast turret captured far better than past efforts by all companies.
The bogies are very complex, but are detailed on all sides and look quite impressive. Each one consists of two seven-piece subassemblies (the tires are separate) and a 12-piece center assembly using the springs and brass tube to provide for spring operation of the bogie if carefully assembled. There is no "non-working" option so care will have to be taken to get the parts aligned correctly.
This is the "early model" and comes with the original "three-vane" exhaust deflector at th rear of the hull as well as the T66 single-link tracks. While DML had a great set of T66 tracks that they came out with ten years ago, the new ones are "Magic Track" and snap together. Each one has four tiny ejection pin marks on it, partially to permit the correct molding of the center guide horn as hollow; but they stand "proud" and will be easily trimmed off. (The real ones were short-lived as they proved fragile; if you want to go with the late war T80 tracks, the AFV Club ones would be your best bet as they are less fussy than the old DML ones that need their connectors drilled out and center guides glued in place.) Suffice to say that they did not opt out for what appears to have been the wrong T80 tracks as they did with their DX05 "Allen F. Irzyk" M4A3E8 kit last year (to which this kit is only related by generic type and not moldings.)
The kit is the first one that captures subtle details (usually not seen) such as the APU exhaust (part B35) under the left sponson. (I don't highlight that as all DML Shermans have always had sponson floors, unlike some other kits.) The idlers are also detailed on both sides and nicely done. Also, DML has engineered the proper fittings for the tow shackles at the front of the hull with the double brackets.
Most of the rest of the details are new and nicely done - even the tools are more substantial than in past kits. All gun barrels are hollow-bored and all "glass" is provided with a clear plastic viewer or lens.
The one major grouse some will have with this kit - as with the "Smart Kit" Panther - is that it is engineered to only use a small amount of etched brass. In this kit that translates to only two items - a complete set of fenders (albeit with styrene braces) and a bracket for the additional .30 caliber Browning used by Abrams. (Note that the direct6ions do not really cover the specific fit for "Thunderbolt VII" as opposed to other late war M4A3E8 tanks, but do show it in the finishing instructions.) All of the "normal" etched parts - brackets, viewer guards, headlight and taillight guards, etc.
- are all very thin and petite styrene moldings. (I feel there will be a cyber-hobby.com "Upgrade" set coming...) However, there are more than enough etched sets available to please the most demanding soul, and for those who do not like etched metal this kit will more than meet the need.
Four finishing options are provided: "Thunderbolt VII" with all of its upgrades and fittings, 4th AD Germany 1945; another 4th AD tank, Germany 1945; 35th Tank Battalion, 4th AD, Bastogne 1945; and 41st Tank Battalion, 11th Armored Division, Germany 1945. All are basic OD with the minimal amount of codes and lettering, which is a bit odd as at this stage of the war many of the vehicles began to sprout full sets of lettering, coding, numbers and stars. One would have though DML would have selected one of them, but they chose to go with "minimalist" subjects.
Overall this is another great effort from DML, and while the "boo birds" will no doubt carp about the lack of etched brass the fact of having a great and solid base kit is of more interest to the average modeler and will be more appreciated in the long run.
Thanks to Freddie Leung for the review sample.
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A 96 M4A2/A3 Late upper hull with A2 engine deck B 37 Late T23 style turret C 18 clear styrene D 8 Applique armor panels G 24 M4A3 engine deck and VVSS details H 24 Early T23 style turret J 24 Road wheel tires K 4 Idler tires Q 35x2 Drive wheels Q 48x3 HVSS road wheels and bogies X 1 Lower hull pan Y 160 Magic Track - T66 links
MA 11 etched brass fenders MB 12 steel springs MB 6 brass tubes MB 1 turned aluminum barrel